I’m a big fan of traditional Cassoulet. And I’m not alone; a repeated question I get is “Where can I get a good cassoulet in Paris?” The short answer is: To the Southwest of France. Sure, one can pick up a jar of Cassoulet from Castelnaudary, or make it, which I sometimes do. For those who want to tackle the project, there’s a recipe in My Paris Kitchen. But not everyone wants to spend a few days gathering ingredients and sauteeing and simmering them together, then baking, then reheating the behemoth in their oven.
While it’s one of my top favorite dishes in the French food canon, sometimes I don’t want to wait, and remain wary of the jar. So when I saw a recipe for Cassoulet Toast in Open Kitchen: Inspired Food for Casual Gatherings, I was intrigued enough to give it a try. Cookbook author Susan Spungen is one of the top food stylists (she famously styled the food for Eat, Pray, Love and the Julie & Julia film), who noted in the headnote of the recipe that she originally wanted to include a Cassoulet recipe in her book, but decided it was too formidable to hoist on home cooks, so came up with a recipe that captures the flavors that we love about cassoulet; the rich, velvety beans, the caramelized aromatics, and the tender duck confit, all on a slice of crisp, country-style bread.
I know right now there are legions of home cooks baking their own sourdough loaves, naming their starters and proudly posting pictures of them online. I’m not one of them, because I’m just a short walk from several excellent bakeries, and I enjoy going in, saying hi to the staff, and bringing a loaf home. It’s a daily ritual in France, which is why bakeries are still open during the lockdown and considered “essential” businesses.
The fun thing that’s interesting to watch online these days is with most of us facing limited food and shopping choices, is how creative people have become. This recipe is a perfect example of that. If you’re a fan of detailed, impeccably-written recipes, you can’t go wrong with recipes written by a famous food stylist.
Susan has seen, and cooked, them all, and lets you know in all her recipes, from the Apple Halvah Galette (which I plan to make as soon as I can get my hands on some halvah) to a no-worry Cheese Soufflé, and a luscious-looking Chocolate Beet Cake, she includes details you know and love, such as how long things will take to cook, what heat to use, issues to look out for, what can be done ahead, and how the dish will turn out. I questioned a few things she said when reading through this recipe, including caramelizing one onion for twenty-five minutes. Huh? I would sure it’d be burnt to a crisp.
It looked fine to me after ten minutes, but I trusted her words, and sure enough, at the twenty-five-minute mark, the onions were marvelously bronzed and caramelized. Perfect.
Canned beans are one of the quick-fixes to these toasts. Susan and I did a recipe swap (watch here on Instagram, available only on mobile devices) and she showed her can of Goya white beans which she said were her preferred beans as they were large and plump. In France, I went with flageolets en conserve.
Duck confit, the other quick-fix in this recipe, might not be something you have on hand. But in France, it just may be, since it’s intended purpose was to preserve duck for later (or leaner) times. If you don’t have it, Susan recommends mail-ordering it from D’Artagnan or you can make the “quick” counterfeit Duck Confit recipe in My Paris Kitchen, which I also shared in Drinking French, that’s a snap to make in any home oven.
To be honest, the beans were so good on their own that you could conceivably just keep this as “beans on toast” and leave it at that. I loved the savory beans with caramelized garlic and herbs, but you could also top them with shredded roast chicken, seared garlicky mushrooms, or crisp bacon.
It was a little scary sharing a picture of my lunch with the recipe by a famous food stylist, but it was truly one of the best things I’ve made, and eaten, in a while. While it might not be a traditional cassoulet, it’s classy and delicious.
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil , (or duck fat), plus a little extra for drizzling
- 1 small onion, peeled and thinly sliced
- 4 medium garlic cloves, peeled
- Two 15 ounces/425ml (each) cans or jars of beans, rinsed and drained
- 1/2 cup (125ml) chopped canned tomatoes, in their juice
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme
- salt and freshly-ground black pepper
- 1 (5 ounces/140g) prepared duck confit leg and thigh
- 1 cup (250ml) plus 1 tablespoon water
- 4 slices thick-cut sourdough (levain) or country bread
- flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped, for garnish
- In a medium (10-inch/25cm) skillet that has a cover, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium heat with the onion slices, and three of the whole cloves of garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions and garlic soften and start to color, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and continue cooking, stirring infrequently, until caramelized, 25 minutes.
- Add the drained beans, tomatoes, thyme, 1 tablespoon olive oil, and 1 cup of water. Increase the heat until the mixture starts to simmer. Use a fork to mash about 1/8th of the beans against the sides of the pan, which will thicken the mixture nicely as it cooks. Continue to simmer until the mixture thickens, about 5 minutes. When done, the mixture should resemble a loose, soupy stew. Turn off heat, remove the thyme sprigs, and mash the garlic cloves with a fork so they meld with the bean mixture. Cover to keep warm, and set aside.
- Place the duck confit thigh is a small-to-medium skillet (preferably not cast iron) skin side down. Add a tablespoon of water to the pan and turn the heat to medium-low.
- Cover and cook until the skin is soft enough to remove, about 3-4 minutes. Remove the skin from the leg in one whole piece, if possible. (I used a paper towel to grab the tip of the leg and carefully coax the skin off with a pair of tongs. It's okay if it comes off in several pieces but do your best to get large ones.) If the skin pieces are sticking and/or the duck to the pan, slide a spatula under them to scrape and lift them away from the bottom of the pan. It's okay if everything doesn't look picture perfect - duck confit is the ultimate "falling off the bone" French dish - and the duck and skin will eventually be torn over the toasts. Preheat the broiler if planning to use that to toast the bread.
- With the lid off, continue to cook the duck thigh, with the skin in the pan next to it, turning both as they cook, until the thigh is starting to get crisp and the skin is close to crisp. The cooking of the duck and skin will take a total of 10 minutes, although the skin may take a bit longer. Remove the duck to a plate and place the skin on a paper towel to drain and crisp up. During the last few minutes while the duck is cooking, turn on the broiler and toast the bread on a baking sheet on both sides until nicely browned, but not hard or overly crisp, or toast the bread in a toaster. When done, rub the remaining garlic clove over the slices of warm bread.
- Top each slice of warm bread with some of the bean mixture, about 1/2 cup each. Top with shredded duck confit meat and crumbled crisp duck skin. Drizzle each toast with a little olive oil and garnish with chopped parsley.